Nancie Atwell said if it appeared as though she was poised and prepared Sunday when she accepted the first-ever Global Teacher Prize – and its $1 million prize – at a ceremony in Dubai, it wasn’t because she knew she would win.

“They asked all of (the 10 finalists) to write acceptance speeches,” she said Monday in a telephone interview. “I had no idea. It was a genuine surprise.”

Atwell, a longtime educator and author from midcoast Maine, returned Monday from a whirlwind weekend with some extra luggage. The Global Teacher Prize, sponsored by the Varkey Foundation, the largest operator of private elementary and secondary schools in the world, already has been called the Nobel Prize for teaching and Atwell is its first winner.

The $1 million award is paid out in installments over 10 years.

“It is validating, but it’s also important in terms of representing not just my work but the work of a whole profession,” she said.

Atwell, 63, already was a renowned teacher and author when she founded the Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb in 1990.

The private K-8 school is unique in that students are not the only ones who go there to learn. Every year, 40-50 teachers from across the world visit as “interns” to learn about teaching practices from Atwell, who espouses the power and value of reading.

Atwell and her colleagues at the Center for Teaching and Learning have graduated hundreds of students since the school was founded.

It was one of those students who nominated Atwell for the Global Teacher Prize. She still doesn’t know who it was and doesn’t necessarily want to know.

“It’s so nice to think that there was someone out there who wanted to do that,” she said.

Atwell was among 5,000 educators who were initially nominated for the award. She was named one of 50 finalists in January and made the top 10 in February.

News of the win has earned her universal praise.

“Anyone who ever spent a day at the Center for Teaching and Learning has seen how dedicated Nancie Atwell is to her students, to other educations and to the teaching profession,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement. “Now the whole world knows.”

“Nancie has dedicated her life to enriching the lives of others, and this international recognition is a reflection of the tremendous impact she has had in Maine and around the world,” added U.S. sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement.

Atwell said she plans to stay true to her promise about donating every penny of the prize money back to the Center for Teaching and Learning.

“I have everything I could want,” she said.

She was still jet-lagged early Monday afternoon from a 13-hour flight but said what she wants most is to get back to her school.

“That’s the place where I’m happiest,” she said.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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